Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Quia ergo femina

Psalm antiphon for the Virgin (D 154v, R 467r) by Hildegard of Bingen Back to Table of Contents
Quia ergo femina mortem instruxit,
clara virgo illam interemit,
et ideo est summa benedictio
in feminea forma
pre omni creatura,
quia Deus factus est homo
in dulcissima et beata virgine.
For since a woman drew up death,
a virgin gleaming dashed it down,
and therefore is the highest blessing found
in woman’s form
before all other creatures.
For God was made a human
in the blessed Virgin sweet.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

Commentary: Themes and Theology
by Nathaniel M. Campbell

This antiphon continues the narrative description of the Virgin’s place within salvation history begun in Hodie aperuit nobis; in this way, the pair are set apart from the responsories that precede them and the antiphons that follow, which directly address the Virgin in praise and intercession. With its opening, Hildegard provides a striking complement to 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, in which the two women (Eve and Mary) act in place of the two men (Adam and Christ): “For since by a human came death, by a human came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” The choice of verbs to describe the contrastive actions of the two women—instruxit and interemit—continues the imagery that Hildegard used in the responsories, Ave Maria, O auctrix vite and O clarissima, in which Eve “constructs” the hollow walls of death and the Virgin tears them down, “rebuilding up” life, health, and salvation in their place.

That shift in perspective from the Adam/Christ pair to the Eve/Mary one allows Hildegard to move into one of her more elegant expressions of the “highest blessing found / in woman’s form,” precisely because of the Virgin’s victory over death in the purity of her sweet, life-giving womb. Barbara Newman notes that this piece joins the antiphon, O quam magnum miraculum, and the sequence, O virga ac diadema, in expanding this exaltation in the person of the Virgin to “woman per se,” whose form “denotes both the Platonic idea and the physical beauty of woman” (Symphonia, p. 273). Because of Hildegard’s Platonic metaphysics, in which humanity stands astride the ladder of being, stretching from the heart of divinity itself down to the vilest, mortal materiality, God’s choice to become a human through a feminea forma raises her weakness into a blessing that surpasses all other creatures. Moreover, although the text itself contrasts the femina (Eve) of the first line with the virgo (Mary) of the second, the benedictio of the third is shared by the Virgin with her fallen ancestor, as Hildegard repeats the musical phrase of line 1’s femina on benedictio (line 3 in the text, line 5 in the transcription). This emphasizes the fact that the blessing of Mary’s virginal restoration of human nature is shared with all womankind.

Commentary: Music and Rhetoric
by Beverly Lomer

E mode
Range: B below the final to E an octave above the final
Setting: neumatic

E is the primary tonal marker in this antiphon. B is deployed as a secondary demarcating tone.

The first phrase is contained in the first two lines of the transcription, and a tick barline has been added at the end of line 2. While this can be performed as one phrase, it is too long for a readable transcription, and so it has been broken into two lines. The same is true for the lines 3 and 4 of the transcription.

At the end of line 4, B becomes the tone that outlines the phrases. This change lasts for two lines, and then E returns as the grammatical marker. Once again, the themes/images of the sacred feminine, which are characteristic of the Marian songs, are highlighted/emphasized by the change from E to B as the tonal marker.

The differences between the manuscripts in Quia ergo femina are primarily in the use of neumes.These have been noted in the transcription, with the neumes that are different in the Riesenkodex illustrated above the line.

Like Hodie aperuit, this antiphon is in narrative form and does not address Mary directly. Rather, it describes the contrast between her saving motherhood and Eve’s destruction. The phrases are well marked by the final and fifth. The melody rises to the highest pitch (E an octave above the final) on the word virgo (in reference to Mary), and further emphasis is obtained by the approach to the registral pitch, which is accomplished by two consecutive leaps. The important and central phrase, et ideo est summa benedictio, is outlined by B, and the following phrase, in feminea forma, begins on B but concludes on E. The change from punctuation by the final sets this theme apart and highlights its importance.

Further Resources for Quia ergo femina
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 116 and 273.
  • Lomer, Beverly R. “Rhetoric and the Creation of Feminist Consciousness in the Marian Songs of Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179).” Ph.D. diss., Florida Atlantic University, 2006.
  • Lomer, Beverly. Music, Rhetoric and the Sacred Feminine. Saarbrücken, Germany: Verlag Dr. Müller, 2009.
  • For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography

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